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You're reading: Language law: liberal rhetoric, radical agenda

Although it has so far attracted little attention in the West, the bill – which grants official status to “regional languages,” especially Russian – is a key example of a familiar pattern in the context of recent battles around Russia’s former Soviet periphery. 

The grievances proclaimed by the “defenders of Russian culture” in Ukraine are strikingly similar to those expressed by similar groups in places from Estonia and Latvia to Moldova and even Central Asia. Not surprisingly, they share a common historical origin – and a common “rodina” from which to draw inspiration – to say nothing of financial or organizational resources. 

As the Russian state grew stronger after Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, and especially as its fears of “contamination” grew after Georgia’s Rose and Ukraine’s Orange Revolutions, it began to intervene more forcefully on behalf of its “countrymen” in the so-called near abroad. For example, Russia has granted citizenship to residents Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, later using this as a pretext for military intervention on behalf of its “citizens.”

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